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Pam Unicomb – a rich and rewarding life

Pam as a young Salvationist (left) and as a soldier of Sydney Congress Hall in her later years.

Pam Unicomb, of Sydney Congress Hall, was promoted to glory on 4 December 2022 from Macquarie Lodge Aged Care Centre. She was 82. Born in 1940 in The Salvation Army’s Bethesda Hospital in Marrickville, Pam was adopted by her aunties, Salvationists Bertha Inwood and Sophie Williamson, who ran the Willowood Rest Home, an independent ‘old peoples’ home’ in Chatswood. Pam had the surname Inwood until marriage.


Pam was always satisfied with the assurance that her mother, a schoolteacher, loved her very much. But Pam’s father had gone to war and had not come back, and her mother felt she could not look after her infant child. So, her mother asked the aunties to raise her.

In writing her life story, Pam recorded that she had a wonderful childhood. She said the aunties provided for her every need and gave her every encouragement and opportunity in education, literature, religion, music, elocution and travel. Discipline was not lacking, but Pam remembered the aunties as fine parents. Aunty Bertha, for many years YPSM at Sydney Congress Hall, died when Pam was 12, but her love and spirit would stay with Pam all her life.

Pam and her first husband John Byles, whom she married in 1962.

From a very young age, Pam Inwood was devout, and joyfully involved in all the many activities of Sydney Congress Hall Corps – Sunday school, directory, singing company, timbrel brigade and corps cadets.

A highlight of Pam’s teenage years was being one of the Australian delegates to the 1956 Corps Cadet Congress in London, a time of inspiring rallies and visits to Salvation Army centres of in Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. Pam maintained lifelong friendships with fellow delegates.

Pam excelled at North Sydney Girls High then at Sydney University, where she majored in English and Geography and graduated BA Dip Ed, qualifying to be a teacher. Captain Eva Burrows, later General, commenced a post-graduate degree at Sydney University in Pam’s third year and they became friends. Following university, Pam completed an Inter-Varsity Fellowship course in theology through the Anglican Moore College.

Officership years

In August 1962, Pam married forestry graduate and fellow Salvationist John Byles. The following year, they entered Officer Training College at Petersham.

Pam showing her versatility in 1992.

At Commissioning, Pam was declared equal dux of the session. Pam and John began the peripatetic life of Salvation Army officers, with appointments in Laidley, Wauchope, Ballina, Canowindra, Unanderra, Panania, Blacktown and Dee Why. During this time, the couple had three sons – Peter, David and Stephen.

Pam later wrote: “I loved being a corps officer – preaching, teaching, praying and helping those in need. I put a great deal of time and effort into my work, and it was richly rewarding.” And there were many humorous moments. On one occasion, Territorial Headquarters refused permission for the purchase of a petrol mower for the quarters, saying a push mower would do. So, John and Pam bought a goat to keep the grass down and named it after the territorial commander!

Along with very active engagement in her many corps officer roles, Pam contributed to numerous groups and committees both in the Army and in the community, including the song book editorial committee, children’s television censorship committee, and she was active in writing and reviewing Sunday school curriculum material.

At the end of 1984, Pam and John were given an appointment in the far north of NSW. This was at a critical stage of their sons’ secondary education and was the catalyst, along with other reasons, for Pam to make a very painful decision. She would leave her marriage and resign her officer’s commission. In those days, one went with the other. Pam moved to Frenchs Forest, taking up teaching again, firstly at Forest High and then at St Luke’s Grammar School, Dee Why.

Pam and Ivan, who married in 1986 and enjoyed 33 years together, soldiering at Sydney Congress Hall.

Pam taught English, geography and ancient history at St Luke’s for 17 years, retiring at the end of 2001.

In 1986, Pam married Ivan Unicomb, an ex-RAAF aircraft fitter and Salvation Army officer for 39 years. As active soldiers of the Sydney Congress Hall, Pam and Ivan enjoyed 33 years of marriage before Ivan was promoted to glory in 2019.

Family mystery solved

In her teen years, Pam found her adoption papers identifying her mother as Muriel Phyllis Morris, but there were no other details. One of the aunts, Sophie, was so angry that the papers had been found that she burnt them all.

While Pam was the officer at the Dee Why, one of her Home League members, Mrs McKenzie, told Pam that in 1940, at the request of the Morris family, she had arranged for Muriel Morris of Warialda to be admitted to the Bethesda Hospital and for the adoption of her child to the ‘Aunties’ in Chatswood. She had told no one but had followed Pam’s life over the years. “Your mother would have been very proud of you,” Mrs McKenzie had said.

Starting with the Warialda phone book, Pam discovered several Morris cousins in the northern NSW town and Muriel’s sister in Tamworth. It was a great joy to meet up with her new-found family members. Pam also met Joyce Irvine, Muriel’s best friend. Muriel had died in 1971, but Pam’s contacts revealed that Pam’s father was James Arthur Clough.

Pam also discovered that to ‘hide the shame’ and to forestall any possibility of a ‘mixed marriage’ between a Catholic and a Protestant, the mothers of Muriel and James intercepted and destroyed any letters, so James had no idea that he had fathered a child on the night before he left Warialda for World War Two.

On returning to Sydney, Pam made contact with James Clough. A registered public accountant, company auditor and tax agent, Clough has served in the NSW Legislative Assembly for 32 years, first as the member for Parramatta and then as the Member for Eastwood. He was a distinguished citizen, being a member of numerous professional bodies and clubs, including being a councillor of Macquarie University.

Pam never wanted to embarrass Clough nor make any claims on him. She felt that she had had a fine upbringing and that her life in the Salvation Army had been very rich and rewarding. She respected his request for confidence, but every time she took students on an excursion to Parliament House, Pam would point out the photograph of her father, the Hon James Clough AM. Her students were always impressed.

Pam Unicomb is survived by her three sons and three grandchildren.

A memorial service for Pam Unicomb was conducted by Major Peter McGuigan on Wednesday 11 January 2023 at Sydney Congress Hall.


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